We talk to writer/director Brandon Cronenberg about his debut feature, Antiviral

Antiviral is the first film from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The film examines the cult of celebrity and how far fans will go to be like the object of their obsession. Brogen Hayes caught up with Cronenberg on the French Riviera to talk Antiviral, celebrity and what it was like growing up as the son of revered director, David Cronenberg.

I have read that you had the idea for Antiviral in 2004; can you talk about the process in getting it to a finished film?
Brandon Cronenberg: I started writing it in 2004 and kept working on it on and off throughout film school. At a certain point, a classmate moved on and started working at Rhombus media, they were doing this first time film initiative and offering a lot of support for first time film makers that they were interested in.Kevin Krikst, who was one of the producers on this film, saw my short and thought it would be a good fit for the programme.

Did the producers want you to change anything about the story?
BC: No, they gave me a huge amount of freedom,  they were very suuportive. Niv [Fichman] is very interested in allowing first time film makers to have their own voice and supporting that voice. He will step in if he thinks you are making a horrible mistake and will play that mentor role, but he was very good about giving me a lot of freedom to make the film I wanted to make.

How does you father feel about the film?
BC: He likes it! [laughs]

Was he involved in the process at all?
BC: He wasn’t really at all. Most of that eight years was me on my own writing and writing. He wasn’t involved with that at all.

Where did the idea come from? Were you sick when you came up with it?
BC: [laughs] I wasn’t often sick, but I was sick when I came up with the idea. I was having a weird fever dream and I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had something in the cells of my body that had come from someone else’s body and how that was a strangely intimate connection when you think of it that way. Then it was after that I thought it would be a good metaphor and platform for discussing celebrity obsession.

What is it about the obsession with celebrity that you wanted to critique?
BC: I think it’s an incredibly common aspect of our culture, but it’s something I feel is kind of strange and grotesque. As well, I think it’s interesting because I think it connects to a broader human impulse to deify people and tear them apart afterwards. I think it’s connected to religion. I wouldn’t say it’s a universal human tendency but a broader human tendency.

As the son of a celebrity, do you feel this gives you a different take on the issue?
BC: Yeah, I definitely used some of that as material. As a young child you don’t understand. I think I was a teenager when people started asking me ‘Can I have lunch with your dad?’ [laughs] and that was pretty strange. I am not sure exactly when I became aware of it.

How did you cast the character of Syd?
BC: Caleb Landry-Jones is fantastic. He has that certain quality where he can do anything and it is immediately fascinating but he also has a huge amount of range and is a really great collaborator. It was easy to work with him because he brought so much to the film; it was just a matter of selecting what I wanted from all of this great stuff that he was offering.

Where did the bare and white concept for the rooms come from?
BC: It was a decision to have some control over what was the focus of each frame. When you have a very white frame anything that is not white in that frame is something that immediately draws the eyes of the audience. Also, there is a kind of blood theme throughout the film and blood stands out extremely well on white so it was technique for controlling what was most visible.

There are a lot of German names in the film…
BC: I liked the name Geist because, as I understand it, it is an actual surname but it actually means ‘ghost’ and she is mostly present in the film as a phantom; this cultural construct that isn’t really a human and you are only getting little whiffs of here and there.

What was it that made you want to get involved in filmmaking?
BC: I was put off by people’s preconceptions; I encountered a lot of people who assumed that I must want to get into film and love film and follow in my father’s footsteps so that really turned me off film making. I had these scattered creative pursuits; I was interested in writing novels and I was doing visual art and worked as an illustrator a little bit and was playing music but at a certain point I thought I couldn’t really get good at any of these and film seemed like a way to collect those interests into one art form.

And you worked on some of your father’s films?
BC: Yeah I worked on a couple. I worked in the Special Effects Department on eXistenZ and on a short film that he did.

Did your father influence your way of making films?
BC: I think it’s hard to say specifically what I learned from him, but I think certainly growing up about film I developed a visceral sense of that process. That was useful when I went to film school; I had a sense of what was involved. It was useful that way, but I am not sure exactly how he influenced me.

Would you agree that you share an aesthetic with your father in some ways?
BC: Probably in some ways. He is my father, we share genes and I grew up with him and I feel like the fact that we share interests and there might be some overlap in our aesthetic sensibilities is to be expected. When I got into film I decided I wasn’t going to actively pursue that or actively avoid it; I was just going to do what was honestly interesting to me and to what extent that would relate to his career wasn’t something that I was interested in thinking about too much.

So you are not self-censoring or actively emulating him…?
BC: Yeah, I am just doing what is interesting to me. I was a little worried at first, but then I realised it would define me and everything I did if I let it be a serious concern so I just stopped thinking about it.

Words: Brogen Hayes

Antiviral is playing exclusively in the Light House Cinema from 8th February 2013